Article Category: Resources for Speakers

250 Things to Guarantee Your Speaking Success?

Many treats!Eric Feng on the Public Speaking Blog recently posted 250 Things You Wish You Know That Will Guarantee Your Speaking Success. I’m skeptical when I read phrases such as “guarantee your speaking success”, and I’m even more skeptical now that I’ve read through all 250 things.

Universal Truths of Public Speaking

To be fair, there are numerous gems in the lengthy list which are virtually universal truths of public speaking. These include:

1. Audience always comes first.
11. Tell a story, make a point.
125. Speak on something that you believe in.
140. The best speeches are not written, they are rewritten.
250. Persistence is key.

Who Says I Don’t Care About the Audience?

However, some of the advice seems too hasty and forceful, such as:

64. Never ask your audience how are they doing at the start of your presentation because we know you don’t really care. It’s just a sign that you are unprepared.
65. That includes “Good morning”, “Good afternoon” and “Good evening”.

Huh? Who says I don’t care how my audience is? While I concede that it is better to open with something more dynamic, I see no problem in building rapport with the audience if the situation allows for it.

A Public Speaking Guarantee?

Some of the 250 things are good general principles, but saying that you can “guarantee your speaking success” by following them is exaggeration. For example:

92. Observe the 10/20/30 rule: 10 slides, not more than 20 minutes, font size 30 at least.
93. Seriously, 80 slides in 45 minutes? You do the math.

As a general principle, the 10/20/30 rule from Guy Kawasaki has significant merit in many situations. But a successful speaker needs to be able to adapt the presentation style to the audience and the message being delivered. The Lessig Method applied in the Identity 2.0 presentation by Dick Hardt uses far more than 10 slides, but was perfect for that audience and that message.


Some of the advice given is just plain scary. Consider:

103. Ten steps to becoming a better speaker.
104. Speak.
105. Speak more.
106. Speak even more.
107. Speak even more than that.
108. Speak when you don’t want to.
109. Speak when you do.
110. Speak when you have something to say.
111. Speak when you don’t.
112. Speak all the time.
113. Keep speaking.
114. In short, it is all about stage time.
115. Having said that, don’t speak for the sake of speaking.

I understand the Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage Time mantra. But one should never, ever “speak when you don’t want to” or “speak when you don’t [have something to say]”. Even though these points are, I assume, delivered somewhat tongue in cheek (see 115), it is careless to even suggest. Stage time is only a benefit if your heart is in it, and you are actually attempting to deliver a message.

Is Speaking a Game?

179. Treat your next speech like a game! Have loads of fun with it.

Excuse me? This contradicts “1. Audience always comes first” (a theme repeated in points 31, 33, 34, 35, 124, 139, 185, 217, and others). Public speaking is not a game. The audience are not donating their time so that you can practice and play games with them. Whatever you do, do it with purpose.

Repetition or Redundancy?

As indicated in the previous paragraph, some themes are repeated in the list of 250. Sometimes the repetition is bordering on redundant:

13. Make a serious point after you get your audience laughing – they remember better.
214. Make a serious point after your audience laugh, it sticks better.

Am I being mean and overly critical? I don’t think so. Great blog posts, like great presentations, need to be carefully edited. They need to be logically consistent. In an ideal world, they need to be free from marketing hype (“250 Things… Guarantee… Success”) and blatant self-promotion. (Is your book really the 2nd best book ever written?)

233. Don’t be afraid to say this to your audience – “RIP ME APART!” Repeat after me, “RIP ME APART!”

Consider yourself ripped, Eric. You can do better, and you have done so many times on your excellent blog.

Update – 2007-11-23

Eric demonstrated that he listens to his audience by trimming his original list down from 250 to 50. The resulting list is of significantly higher quality. Well done, Eric! Does this mean I should look at the posts on this blog and edit them down to the best 10% too? 🙂

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  1. Eric says:

    Hey Andrew, I am flattered that you took the time to analyze the list and kicked my butt. Ouch! What the list needs is some explanation of the context.

    For eg, “treat your speech as a game”. It doesn’t mean that the speaker should not take his speech seriously… even games have rules and in this case, rule number one says audience always come first.

    Having said that, what I want the speaker to do is enjoy the process of writing and delivering a speech (like what you do in games). Create your own thrills that will motivate you. In my case, I enjoy seeing my audience go “Ahh.. I din know that!” and so I will put in the extra effort to offer facts or figures that my audience are clueless about.

    More about fun here:

    I would be interested to read about your list of things that will help a speaker become a better speaker.

  2. Gene Thomas says:

    For me successful has come to mean: 1) Knowing what your talking about. 2) Being able to do it without, or with very little, referring to notes. 3) Just planting both feet on the floor at shoulder width, and 4) talking to the audience. As to power point, use it only if it is NECESSARY. If you can describe it with words, so much the better.

  3. Kia says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I’m amazed by your evaluation on Eric’s article and shared your insightful comments. I like the way you analyzed some of the points that shared by Eric.
    As a Toastmasters for two years, I’m alway seeking tips to improve my public speaking skills. I visit public speaking blogs occasionally and found that most of the public speakers shared their opinion and experience in public speaking, the purpose is the same – wanting the reader to be a better speaker. Different people have different opinioin, I would say.
    Some of the tips shared ONLINE are actually common sense or universal truth. But, sometimes, we really need to be reminded. That’s the reason why I visit public speaking blogs often. I want to be reminded…
    I enjoy reading your blog and hope that I will be a great speaker like YOU one day!

  4. Joan Curtis says:

    Thank you for paring down your list from 250 to 50! There is no way I’d read 250 suggestions. And, the ones I read were very redundant. How many times can you say the same thing? In my view there are three kinds of speakers:
    1. Sender driven: The Showman who is more concerned with themselves than his/her audience or message. That’s how I felt after scanning your 250 points. Even though you said you were interested in the audience, I didn’t see anything that suggested you did anything that engaged them.
    2. Audience driven. The Shrink. This presenter is too concerned with the audience. There are not as many of these, but they exist. They come to any presention looking unprepared and are willing for the audience to take over the content.
    3. Message driven. The University Professor. There are many of these out there. They are so concerned about delivering the content, they forget the audience or themselves.
    In simple words, what we need is a balance among these three styles.
    Check out my blog

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